DeSantis activates National Guard amid migrant surge in Florida Keys

90 migrants arrive Friday, Dry Tortugas National Park reopening Sunday, officials say

MARATHON, Fla. – Homemade boats became part of the landscape in the mangroves and on the beaches of the Florida Keys, as the onslaught of migrant landings continued overnight into Friday.

Additional state resources are now being called in to assist.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol on Friday morning, over the previous 24 hours, agents responded to five landings and apprehended 90 Cuban migrants.

Agents set up tents at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Marathon to shade those in an overflow area.

They provided the migrants with food, water and clothing as they were being processed.

This came after a cavalry of buses was chartered specifically to transport the 330-plus migrants who arrived New Year’s weekend on the Dry Tortugas, a national park with little water and few facilities.

A brand new photo showed what looks like nearly two-dozen vessels now lining the shore there.

On Friday afternoon, the National Park Service announced that the Dry Tortugas National Park would reopen Sunday.

Local 10 News was there when that group was eventually put on a Coast Guard cutter normally used as a buoy tender.

The group arrived to Key West Thursday morning, making their way to facilities on the mainland.

The office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said early Friday afternoon it was “aware” of the situation in the Florida Keys and officials were “working on it.”

“The governor is committed to acting within his power to shield Florida from the disastrous effects of President Biden’s abdication of his responsibility to secure our nation’s borders,” spokesperson Jeremy Redfern said Friday.

It wasn’t immediately clear what steps the governor intended to take — but that changed a few hours later.

That’s when DeSantis signed an executive order activating the Florida National Guard to assist with the “alarming influx of migrants landing in the Florida Keys” and aiding in efforts preventing further landings.

In a statement, DeSantis placed the blame on the White House.

“As the negative impacts of Biden’s lawless immigration policies continue unabated, the burden of the Biden administration’s failure falls on local law enforcement who lack the resources to deal with the crisis,” DeSantis said. “That is why I am activating the National Guard and directing state resources to help alleviate the strain on local resources. When Biden continues to ignore his legal responsibilities, we will step in to support our communities.”

According to a news release, the state will “will deploy air assets, including airplanes and helicopters from the Florida National Guard, and will bolster Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission marine patrol to support water interdictions and ensure the safety of migrants attempting to reach Florida through the Florida Straits.”

All of this comes a day after Biden announced a new policy related to migration from Cuba and other countries at America’s land border with Mexico.

On Thursday, he announced that the U.S. would immediately begin turning away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross illegally.

Close to 300,000 Cubans have reached the United States, mainly through the southern border, since October of 2021. That doesn’t include the close to 8,000 Cubans intercepted at sea during the same timeframe.

In fact, an estimated 2% of the island’s population has left in this latest mass exodus.

Experts say this is all part of the largest single wave of Cuban migrants in the country’s history, even pre-dating the revolution.

About the Authors:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.